Netflix’s “Away,” starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank and Josh Charles, launched into orbit this month, and came crashing back down.
The show centers on the Green family: Emma Green (Swank) is a former Navy pilot who has been chosen to lead the first manned mission to Mars. Her husband, Matt Logan (Charles), is a NASA engineer who will be manning mission control for Emma’s journey while caring for their teenage daughter, Alexis (Talitha Bateman), at home.
The pilot opens on a lunar base 24 hours before the crew will take a three-year journey to Mars. Through flashbacks, we see Emma’s final goodbyes with her family and the introduction to our supporting characters. It’s immediately made clear that a few people on the crew don’t quite trust Emma as the head of their mission. An early mishap forms a rift between them, coincidentally between modern-day political enemies, pairing India with Britain and the States against China and Russia.
At first glance, “Away” might remind you of past space adventures like “The Martian,” but on closer inspection, it’s more akin to the American drama “Friday Night Lights” due to its focus on character dynamics and backstories. Despite the story mainly focusing on drama, a majority of the team’s chemistry is built through trust gained from averting crises on and off the ship. Though this is a legitimate way of building bonds between the crew, many of them follow the same, mundane formula of crisis, backstory then resolution. Rinse and repeat for ten hour-long episodes, and it starts to make the series a test of endurance rather than form of entertainment.
Swank’s character, Emma, is either cold and disciplined or extremely emotional, and the dialogue doesn’t give much leeway for Swank to properly segue the two personalities. She is a good actor, don’t get me wrong; she does a good job of mimicking the mannerisms of a lifelong military character like Emma. But the way Emma is written stifles her acting prowess, burying it in awkward character transitions.
Because a majority of the crew’s chemistry is built from intense conflicts and problem-solving, we don’t get to see the crew interacting much in everyday activities, a part of the show I wished we could see more of. For instance, I found myself truly enjoying a scene in the pilot in which the astronauts play soccer in zero gravity, but not much more of this type of scene appears in the rest of the show.
Matt Logan’s character writing faces the same problem as Emma’s–he’s either angry and frustrated, or affectionate and supportive. This severely limits what actor Charles can do with the character and really holds back his performance in the show.
“Away” does not care all too much about the realism of some of the technical conflicts that the crew may run into; it makes it clear that it is more of a family drama than a space exploration film. Many of the members undergo family strife similar to that which Emma goes through. Crew chemist Lu Wang (Vivian Wu), however, has a background that stands out from the rest, as it is centered around separation and forbidden love.
“Away” drags out drama and takes too long to advance the plot, with roughly ten hours of boring, predictable content. But the show has a little bit of something for everyone, with nerve-wracking and suspenseful scenes to long, yet enjoyable, family scenarios. It’s not something to watch on your own, but leaving it on to play in the background while you chat with friends may enrich the experience instead of making it your sole focus.
Verdict: Skip it